What is love? We ask ourselves this question in varying forms throughout our lives, and the truth seems to evade us as we seek its answer in the enticements of the world or even in our human relationships. Defining love is a nebulous affair, and yet in order to discover the answer, we needn’t look any further than the Cross upon which our Savior hung. It seems overly simplistic, doesn’t it, or even cliched? Our exposure and comprehension of Christianity may be exaggerated or stagnant, perhaps even lukewarm. The Cross has become more of a symbol for us than a reality, and this tragedy seeps through every facet of our culture and, yes, even our own lives.
Before I began typing this reflection on the beautifully sorrowful and momentous Sunday in which we commemorate Jesus’ Passion and death, I was listening to a secular song entitled, For You by Keith Urban from the movie soundtrack Act of Valor. The movie is based on a true story of a team of U.S. Navy SEALS who engage in covert deadly missions in the War on Terror, and their captain tragically dies in the line of fire. But what makes the movie so powerful instead of another typical drama is that the audience is drawn into the relationship of the Navy SEAL brotherhood, specifically of the half dozen men we follow in the movie. It makes that one “act of valor,” the sacrificial offering of the SEAL officer to die in order to save the life of his comrades, a heart-wrenching and yet deeply altruistic understanding of what love truly means.
Consider the lyrics from the song:
All I saw was smoke and fire
I didn’t feel a thing
But suddenly I was rising higher
And I felt like I just made
The biggest mistake
When I thought about my unborn child
When I thought about my wife
And the answer rang out clear
From somewhere up above
No greater gift has man
Than to lay down his life for love
And I wonder, would I give my life?
Could I make that sacrifice?
If it came down to it
Could I take the bullet? I would
Yes I would, for you
Is taking a bullet even remotely comparable to the Crucifixion of Jesus? Not even close. But it does serve as a suitable analogy when we consider in our own lives what sacrificial love looks like. We wonder if it has a face, if love is just some abstract or obscure concept we read about in poems or analyze in philosophy classes. We even learn about the Romantic epoch, with its musical masterpieces and artistic renditions of soft and melancholic representations of an idyllic emotional experience. But it all seems hollow and shallow in the end and leaves the human heart dissatisfied at the least, empty at the most.
Jesus’ Passion isn’t limited to a dreaded annual lengthy Gospel reading; it isn’t exclusive to one event that occurred nearly two millennia ago. The Passion of Our Lord is our great teacher of what it means to offer the gift of self to another and especially to God. When we meditate and contemplate the intensity of Jesus’ suffering, we are drawn closer to His Sacred Heart. We not only emote love, but we recognize the truth that love is a decision. It is not based upon what we think, believe, or how we feel, but it is rather a way of being, a lifestyle, a choice we make to die to self in order that another might have life; specifically, we empty ourselves of selfishness and comforts of the senses so that Jesus may fill us with Himself. Only when we unite our hearts entirely to His are we able to more fully grasp the depth of His love.
It seems so contradictory that love would entail death, but not death in the Romantic sense of the word in which a disillusioned lover commits suicide over losing his beloved, but rather a mystical death in which we consciously abdicate all that we seek to control about our lives in an act of the will, an act of total surrender to the One who created us and who first loved us into being.
I leave you with the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from today’s Magnificat periodical:
Only when someone values love more highly than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. If it is to be more than death it must first be more than mere life. Jesus’ total love for men, which leads him to the cross, is perfected in total stepping-over to the Father and therein becomes stronger than death, because in this it is at the same time total ‘being held’ by him.
Ponder: Take the time to meditate in silence on Jesus’ Passion and the fact that, if you were the only person in the world who ever existed, He would have died only for you. Reflect upon the current state of your heart; have you emptied yourself, died to your selfishness, with the desire that Jesus alone may fill you with His Will and Love?
Pray: Jesus, I will never fully comprehend this great act of love and sacrifice that you offered just for me, but I do know that I want to come closer and closer to Your Most Sacred Heart. I believe that you suffer with me when I am lonely, afraid, or grieving, and I want to unite my heart more intimately with yours. Give me the grace, through the beauty of this Palm Sunday, to offer myself to you this day. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing